Capsule Stage Reviews: The Beams Are Creaking, Entertaining Mr. Sloane, The Foreigner, Magdalene, One Kiss: The Music of Sigmund Romberg, Travelsty

The Beams Are Creaking The life of German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who opposed Hitler and paid for his resistance with his life, is so full of drama that his story should be a natural for the theater. Just the basic facts would fill a play threefold: an international man of God, whose influence ranged from America throughout Europe, stands up to the very face of evil, joins the underground spy network, plans the assassination of Hitler, is caught and dies a martyr to the cause of good people doing their best in times of unspeakable horror. Yet Douglas Anderson's The Beams Are Creaking — named for the secret code for the assassination attempt — which receives an atmospheric physical production from A.D. Players and is wonderfully played, is exceedingly plodding and, yes, very much a dull, monotonous exercise. While Anderson's drama touches upon the highlights of Bonhoeffer's amazing career, the play has no life in it. Never do we have a sense of what drives intellectual Bonhoeffer to these heroic deeds. We never get a true picture of the man, whose life was so rich in particulars. We see him at first as an incredulous, apolitical man of God, thoroughly debunking the idea that someone of Hitler's kind would rise to power. Scenes of deep dramatic power creep by in vignette style (his famous confrontational radio speech about Hitler's misuse of power, which was cut off the air mid-speech by the Nazis, goes nowhere), as if Anderson has a duty to include these pivotal episodes, but doesn't see fit to dramatize them. And the scenes that explain the Abwehr, the German intelligence unit akin to our CIA, are clumsy and gloss over exactly how this organization was used as the base by the resistance. It's all perfunctory, as is the handling of Bonhoeffer himself. Kevin Dean, always an actor of quiet conviction and depth, has no one to play. He's a good man throughout, but without much of a heartbeat. He's rather bland, which the fiery Bonhoeffer definitely was not. Through June 10. 2710 W. Alabama, 713-526-2721. — DLG

Entertaining Mr. Sloane Scrumptious is not an adjective often applied to the subversive work of playwright Joe Orton, but in Country Playhouse's delicious rendition of his first major hit, Entertaining Mr. Sloane (1964), there's no other way to describe it: appetizing, delectable, toothsome, yummy. Low-rent hustler Mr. Sloane (Shawn Everiss), an amoral opportunist of the highest order, is picked up by blowsy widow Kath (Maria O. Sirgo), who hopes to supplement her meager income by renting out a room in her Dadda's (John Kaiser) dilapidated row house. Kath needs the rent...and something more...and the young, lithe Mr. Sloane, he of the bleached blond hair and easy manner, gives her whatever she wants. Sickly Dadda, doddering and toasting his crumpets by the fire grate, has suspicions since young Sloane looks just like the thug who, earlier, viciously murdered his boss. Kath's brother Ed (Bryan Maynard), a successful businessman and closet leather queen, who visits Kath to arrange Dadda's being put in a home, spies Mr. Sloane, rumpled and just out of bed with shirt askew, and goes immediately gaga. He wants him, too. The family "intercourse" of how Mr. Sloane, entertaining as he may be, entertains them all in crazy-quilt ways is the heart of Orton's deeply inky farce. There's no one like Orton for showing society's moral hypocrisy and rubbing it in our blanched faces. Director Jim Tommaney (a Houston Press freelance writer) wisely overlays just the correct tone on this rebellious comedy of bad manners, and the ensemble cast could not be bettered. Everiss, faux blond and languid, personifies Orton's lounge lizard, who becomes the blank slate upon which everyone writes in his own cursive script. Sirgo is perfection as over-the-hill Kath, who assumes her flimsy red peignoir will turn Sloane's head. Maynard, as not-so-closeted Ed, appropriately proper and stuffy at first, slyly reveals his sleazy underbelly when he sets out to ensnare Sloane — and Kath — at his own game. Kaiser, as addled Dadda, has found his apogee with this role. He's wondrously theatrical, as always, and makes this sickly old man truly unforgettable. All four triumph, as does Orton! Through May 26. 12802 Queensbury. 713-467-4497. — DLG

The Foreigner Larry Shue's sweet backwoods comedy (1983), a staple of regional theaters, receives an equally sweet rendition at Company OnStage. Shy, profoundly boring Englishman Charlie (David James Barron), a dear friend of U.K. staff sergeant Froggy (Mark S. Jones), is brought by his friend to a fishing lodge owned by Betty (Jeanette Sebesta) in rural Georgia for much-needed R&R to cheer him up after learning of his wife's cancer and, more shocking, her constant infidelities — 23 by her own count. Charlie has an abnormal fear of talking to anyone about anything, so Froggy invents a story that he can't speak English and doesn't understand a word anyone says. Living at the lodge are Catherine (Elyse Rachal), fiancée to abnormally patient pastor David (James Reed), and her "slow" brother Ellard (Geoffrey Geiger), whom everybody treats like the village idiot. The villain of the piece is racist bigot Owen (John Wind), who wants nothing more than to turn the lodge into a mega-base for his beloved KKK. One by one, the locals confide in this silent confessor, bringing out the best in themselves, while the not-so-nice townsfolk blab away in front of him since they believe he can't understand what they're saying. Barron finds just the right note of bemused silliness for Charlie, who "comes out" in a wonderfully idiotic fairy tale that he invents to amuse Betty and friends. Meanwhile, Wind's scarily effective performance as the prototypical redneck adds a whole other layer of menace to Shue's featherweight play. While we laugh, he makes us catch our breath. Through June 9. Company OnStage, 536 Westbury Square, 713-726-1219. — DLG

Magdalene Emerging playwright Sara Kumar tackles the New Testament in Magdalene, presented by Paragon Arts and the University of St. Thomas Center for Faith and Culture. The story is told from the point of view of Mary Magdalene as she moves from debauchery to redemption. This is an ambitious project, with a cast of 22, but it lacks dramatic flair and fresh insights. We see Mary Magdalene in the throes of sin so many times that it is tedious. The good news, paradoxically, is that the Devil steals the show. Richard Hubscher is a ballet dancer, and, in tattered formalwear, his pantomime, sinuous movements, silent reactions and seductive mien, replete with reflective green nails, lend quality and distinction to the production. Magdalene is directed by Stewart Hawley, and he has failed to create the acting ensemble essential to a pageant; the acting styles are all over the lot. But the central flaw is the writing, as Kumar gives us narrative without drama. Through May 20. Obsidian Art Space, 3522 White Oak, 713-412-8478. — JTT

One Kiss: The Music of Sigmund Romberg Hungarian transplant Sigmund Romberg composed some of Broadway's most luminous melodies during its '20s golden age. His lush, operatic songs are in fine hands with Bayou City Concert Musicals' intimate showcase, the fifth such cabaret production at Ensemble Theatre's Performance Centre. The lively shows, produced by BCCM's Artistic Director/founder Paul Hope, an Alley Theatre vet and real Broadway baby whose showbiz knowledge runs deep and true, have an intoxicating taste of Manhattan nightlife. While there's no fancy supper-club menu, dishes of mixed nuts do stand-in and there's a bar that pours premium adult beverages, so we're never too far from swank. It's laid-back and informal, as if we're being entertained at home. Hope, standing at a lectern, is our personable emcee for Romberg's musical journey, telling tales of old Broadway and leading us joyously through the life and work of this dean of American operetta, whose peerless, timeless melodies fit effortlessly into the Great American Songbook. You can't really appreciate Romberg without Rombergian singers, willing to give these sumptuous melodies their all. Hope always showcases the best show singers in town for his cabarets, and One Kiss is no exception, plying us with some Houston favorites. I'm still humming the haunting "Lost in Loveliness" from The Girl in Pink Tights, sung by Susan Draper and Tye Blue. Everybody gets to shine in these shows. Among the highlights: Rob Flebbe's ardent "Serenade" ("Overhead the Moon Is Beaming") from Student Prince; John Gremillion wrapping his baritone around the stirring "Riff Song" from Desert Song; Susan Shofner portraying a singing figurehead in the comic "Girl on the Prow" from New Moon; the statuesque Danica Dawn Johnston's sultry rendition of "Stout-Hearted Men," also from New Moon; and a showstopping, jazzed "Lover Come Back to Me" from Beth Lazarou, accompanied by the original orchestral track that Streisand used. Other featured notable artists are Janet Berzins, Amanda Passanante, Alex Stutler and Doug Threeton. Last performance May 21. 3535 Main, 713-465-6484. — DLG

Travelsty Two couples travel around the country, singing about various states or cities, and through the alchemy of talent and showmanship turn this slight material into a totally entertaining two hours of pure pleasure. The setting is cabaret, with the talented four-piece band G Sharp and the MBT 3, and refreshments are available. The concept is minor, but the skits that bridge the songs — all original writing — range from merely pleasant to absolutely hilarious. Three of the skits had punch lines that seemed to come out of the blue, but paid off so well I was blown away. The gifted performers are Rebekah Dahl and Brad Scarborough, married in real life and founders of The Music Box Theater, and Cay Taylor and Luke Wrobel, and after journeying cross-country with them, I'm calling them by their given names. All are attractive, and work well together in harmony and in the choreography supporting the songs. Rebekah is tall and blond, Cay is medium height and dark, Luke looks like an American David Niven, and Brad has movie star looks but excels here as a comedic actor. He plays briefly several singers in a skit about Record #17 of Tony Bennett's Duets — it's fast-paced and huge fun. A recurring thread has them all in a car, Luke driving and Brad in the passenger seat, with the ladies behind. They also travel by rail and, hilariously, by plane. Videos accompany the opening and closing songs and add fun, but the show's triumph is the ensemble acting that creates a sense of friends off on a madcap odyssey. Four strong performers and a witty script weave familiar pop hits into a thoroughly pleasurable evening, a must-see for cabaret aficionados and for music lovers of any stripe. Through August 5. 2623 Colquitt, 713-522-7722. — JJT


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